Category Archives: New acquisition

An archive in exile: Arturo & Ilsa Barea

By Eva Nieto McAvoy

Arturo and Ilsa Barea’s archive and library have been kept in a terrace house near Finsbury Park for the past 40 years. Their niece Uli Rushby-Smith inherited this large collection in the 1970s and has taken upon herself the daunting task of looking after the estate and ensuring that the Bareas’ legacies are kept alive by promoting several new editions of their work. It was through Arturo Barea’s biographer Michael Eaude that I came into contact with Uli, the terrace house, the papers and the books in 2011. I was interested in writing a PhD thesis on Arturo Barea and having access to the archive was a wonderful oportunity. Aside from researching for my thesis ‘A Spaniard in Hertfordshire: The Intellectual Exile of Arturo Barea’, I catalogued the papers and, in the process, became personally involved in this wonderful story. When I first arrived, about twenty boxes of articles, letters, drafts, newspaper cuttings and scrapbooks belonging to Arturo and Ilsa, and several walls covered with the books of five generations (from Ilsa’s parents to her great nieces) were awaiting me. The results of the organizing and cataloguing can now be enjoyed by users for the Weston Library, the new home of Arturo and Ilsa Barea’s papers.

Photographs in the archive, photo by Sonia Boué

Photographs in the archive, photo by Sonia Boué

The Bareas started their exile homeless, but also paperless and bookless. They managed to bring over a case with personal and family documents and some photographs from their previous life in Spain. But that’s about it. For the most part, this archive is an exile’s archive: written in exile, built in exile, read in exile and kept in exile until today.

I have to confess that my weekly visits to the archive, working in the nostalgic living room furnished with Biedermeier cabinets, with walls full of books and magazines, blue china and netsuke that belonged to Ilsa, overlooked by the solemn presence of Barea’s grandfather clock, are still my favourite part of the research. Each letter or photograph has a story behind it and more often than not, Uli has filled in the blanks with her memories of Arturo and Ilsa.

Arturo Barea (Badajoz 1897 – Faringdon, Oxfordshire 1957) was a Spanish writer, literary critic and broadcaster. A socialist and active member of the UGT (the Socialist trade union) during the Spanish Civil War, Barea was the head of the Press Department of the Republican Foreign Office in Madrid, dealing with foreign press correspondents such as Ernest Hemingway or John Dos Passos. During this time, he met and married his second wife, the Austrian socialist Ilsa Barea (née Ilse Pollak), his life-long companion, collaborator and translator.

Ilsa & Arturo in their garden

Ilsa & Arturo in their garden

In 1938 Barea and Ilsa left Spain for France and then England, where they arrived in March 1939. It was during his early years in exile that Barea became a well-known contributor of articles and short stories to Horizon, Time and Tide, the New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement and Tribune, aside from contributing the essay ‘Struggle for the Spanish Soul’ to Orwell’s wartime series Searchlight Books. He was also a regular broadcaster for the BBC Latin American Service under the penname ‘Juan de Castilla’. Barea is the author of the autobiographical trilogy The Forging of a Rebel, which was first published in English by Faber&Faber (1941-1946) and edited by T.S Eliot. The trilogy was an immediate international success and was translated into nine languages during the forties. The Spanish edition came out in Argentina in 1951 and it was only published in Spain in 1977 after Francisco Franco’s death. Barea never returned to Spain and became a British national in 1948.

Ilsa Barea (1902-1973), née Pollak, was a socialist political activist, journalist and translator. Born in Vienna into a liberal family, Ilsa was politically active early on, particularly in the areas of propaganda and education. She was a member of the Austrian Communist Party initially then later the Austrian Social Democratic Party. In 1936, she was employed by the Press Department of the Republican Foreign office in Madrid. During this period of the Spanish Civil War, she met Arturo Barea. They were both working as censors at their headquarters in the Telefonica (the title of her serialised novel published in the Austrian Arbeiter-Zeitung in 1949). After the death of her first husband, Leopold Kulcsar,  in January 1938, Ilsa married Arturo and together they fled Spain.

While in exile, Ilsa continued supporting the Spanish Republican struggle by publishing articles in Time and Tide, New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement, and Tribune. In August 1939 she joined the BBC Monitoring Service in Evesham, translating broadcasts from German and Spanish alongside Ernest Gombrich, George Weidenfeld, Martin Esslin and Anatol Goldberg. She was an exceptionally gifted linguist. Later her work focused on evaluating foreign writers, translating many of them for English and American publishing houses. She also broadcast for the BBC on a number of subjects.

Vienna. Legend and Reality (Secker and Warburg, 1966)

Vienna. Legend and Reality (Secker and Warburg, 1966)

Ilsa was a close collaborator of Arturo’s, influencing his work in many ways. Her most important contribution was the translation of his trilogy The Forging of a Rebel into English, praised for its quality in many reviews. The legacy of her father, Valentin Pollak, a well-known Viennese teacher and educationalist, was carried on in Ilsa’s work as a teacher herself and interpreter for Labour Parties and Unions across Europe. She became a British national in 1948, but after Arturo’s death in 1957, she returned to Vienna regularly, spending the last years of her life there. She is the author of Vienna: Legend and Reality (1966), a social and cultural history of the city.

Arturo and Ilsa shared a life of letters until his death in 1957; he wrote; she wrote and translated what he had written in Spanish into English. Snooping around the couple’s papers I can imagine them in their cottage in Eaton Hastings, working at their shared desk piled with papers threatening to tip over while listening to the radio in the background and having endless discussions about politics in several languages as they shared the house with a mixture of family members and friends from different places. It is precisely this mixture of languages and intellectual traditions which has a very strong presence in the archive and the library.

It is overall surprising to find a comparatively small proportion of material in Spanish – letters and documents in English, German, French, Danish and even Swedish open a window onto an important period of European history. The archive is an important repository of Spanish culture in exile, but also of Austrian culture and, even more importantly, of the internationalism that permeated the anti-fascist struggle of the Second World War and the anti-communist struggle during the Cold War.

The Forge, The Track and The Clash (Faber & Faber, 1941, 1943, 1946)

The Forge, The Track and The Clash (Faber & Faber, 1941, 1943, 1946)

Some of the most important holdings in the archive are the original and annotated typescripts of Arturo and Ilsa’s work like Arturo’s La Raiz Rota, Ilsa’s Vienna, as well as their many short stories, articles and even unpublished poetry by Ilsa. Sadly there is no typescript of La forja de un rebelde, but only a few chapters in French and the first two pages of La forja in Spanish, probably from 1938.

Arturo and Ilsa’s papers are hard to separate. Aside from their close intellectual collaboration, she often wrote letters on his behalf, particularly when they first arrived – many of them explaining Arturo’s limitations with English. But Arturo could read in English, and the number of British classics in their library gives credence to a biographical note of 1941 which explained “that his spoken English is still atrocious, but he is beginning to appreciate Jane Austen”. There is an incredible articulation of Spain and Britain in Barea’s work and in the archive and library. On the shelves we can find Don Quijote de la Mancha sitting quite comfortably next to Tristram Shandy. Letters to Cyril Connolly and John dos Passos are written in Spanish and are mixed with those of Arturo to his family back in Madrid. As expressed in one of Barea’s obituaries, he served as an “interpreter between two different civilizations and ways of life”.

Uli tells us that the Bareas spent most of their time writing letters and reading newspapers and magazines, ranging from the Manchester Guardian to Picture Post. All of these activities have left traces in the archive as well. Apparently, one of Uli’s jobs was to help them read through the morning papers, to cut out all the news relating to whatever topic they were writing about at the moment and to paste the clippings in scrapbooks – all of which are also in the archive.

Throughout their careers, Arturo and Ilsa wrote book reviews and articles about the literature and authors of their homelands. They also had an important role in promoting, and often translating into English, Spanish authors such as Camilo J. Cela and other writers in exile like Guillermo de Torre, Ramón J. Sender, Esteban Salazar Chapela, Francisco Ayala or Max Aub. After Arturo’s death, Ilsa continued this work as a translator from Spanish and German, but also as a reader for British publishing houses, as an editor, and as an interpreter, particularly for trade unions. We can find most of this paperwork in the archive, aside from around 12 boxes of correspondence that traces Arturo and Ilsa’s work and life in exile.

Arturo Barea broadcasting for the BBC Latin American Service

Arturo Barea broadcasting for the BBC Latin American Service

The archive also illustrates Barea’s relationship with Latin America. Articles for the Argentinian newspaper La Nación, around 650 of the 850 broadcasts he wrote for the BBC Latin American Service, fan-mail to “Juan de Castilla” and details of his 1956 trip to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay – including airplane tickets and a record of all the vaccines he needed.

Arturo’s past as a non-intellectual also sneaks into the archive in rather unexpected ways. One of his major projects was to design a bookshelf system that could be assembled and dismantled by anyone in order to adapt to different spaces and uses, decades before IKEA had the same idea. Drawing on his previous experience in a patent agency in Spain, Arturo tried to patent his design. The shelves still stand in Uli’s living room, more than 60 years after Arturo first built them.

Today, the Bareas’ archive is arguably still in exile. The donation to the Bodleian is an important step in assuring access to its holdings for future generations of scholars – although researchers will now miss Uli and her partner Eugene’s wonderful meals and conversations. One question that comes to mind is why not send the holdings back to Spain, as has happened with other Spanish Republican exiles’ libraries? The return to Spain is often seen as a reconciliation following the injustice of the years of expulsion.

Several reasons are behind the decision to donate the archive to the Bodleain. The cosmopolitanism of the holdings; the fact that Arturo’s work is difficult to separate from that of his wife, which represents a whole chapter of Austrian culture in exile; and the fact that the transnational character of their work might be best represented in Britain, as an example of the internationalism of the war and post-war periods. It is also a much needed reminder of how Britain’s (often reluctant) hosting of European exiles resulted in the political, cultural and social contributions of Europeans to British culture and politics.

Most importantly, it is undeniable that Ilsa and Arturo started their exile struggling to overcome the violent loss of the life they were forced to leave behind. In 1956 Arturo still felt that ‘la patria se siente como un dolor agudo’ – the homeland feels like an acute pain. But Ilsa and Arturo were also able to embrace exile as a new beginning, a new life together in a foreign land that soon became home.

Archives, libraries, books and scrapbooks can help exiles keep links with their homeland, but can also ground them to their new homes. Arturo and Ilsa’s archive is testimony to this. If, in Adorno’s words, “To those who no longer have a homeland, writing becomes home”, the archive is already home and it belongs here, in Britain more than there, in Spain.

Sir Oliver Wardrop’s desk diaries donated to the library

Audience members who attended the launch of Nikoloz Aleksidze’s book Georgia: a Cultural Journey through the Wardrop Collection  at the Weston Library on June 1st also had the novel experience of witnessing the arrival of a further addition to the Bodleian’s Wardrop  holdings. A family descendant of Sir Oliver, who was attending the launch, brought his desk diaries to donate to the collection. The Wardrop collection forms the nucleus of the Bodleian’s rich holdings of Georgian books and the donation of the desk diaries enriches this significant collection still further.

Dating from 1882-1948, the diaries provide details of Sir Oliver’s daily meetings and activities. They  will offer scholars an important glimpse into his day-to-day life, particularly during the critical period leading up to and immediately after the formation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia when he served as the British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia.

 

A life in letters: a tribute to Jenny Joseph

Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

On Sunday 13th May the actress Miriam Margolyes will be in Oxford to perform a public reading of poems by Oxford alumna Jenny Joseph, the author of Warning:

‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me’

The event, hosted by the Bodleian and St Hilda’s College, celebrates the life and work of Jenny Joseph, who died this January, and will include a selection of poetry ranging across her more than 50 year-long writing career. She donated her literary archive to the Bodleian in 2017.

The reading will be at the beautiful, seventeenth-century Convocation House in the Old Bodleian Library from 11.30pm-1.00pm. Tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions), including tea/coffee and a pastry. You can book tickets online at What’s on, or phone the box office at 01865 278112 (there is a £2 booking fee for phone bookings).

Please note that tickets will not be available on the door.

Donation of a Sindhi artist’s manuscript

 

We have recently received the generous donation of an illustrated history of the Mirs of Sindh, given in memory of its author and illustrator Mrs. Amina G. Hyder Khaliqdina.

Mrs Amina (Nee Bana) G. Hyder Khaliqdina (1919 -1959)

Amina’s family have written an account of her remarkable story and kindly given permission for it to be posted here.

 

Amina was born on 19th April 1919 in Hyderabad, Sindh (presently a Province of Pakistan) to a middle class educated family. Many male members of her family were well-educated, including her grandfather and uncles, and some of them were civil servants of the British government.

Amina was part of the Muslim Shia Ismaili Community, which had emphasised female education. However, in Sindh education opportunities were limited especially for women. After losing the battle of Miani with the East India Company in 1843, the Emirate of Sindh lost its independent status and was included as a part of the Bombay Presidency. This was the punishment for Sindh confronting the East India Company and, consequently, for many years Sindh remained underdeveloped. Infant mortality was high. Amina herself was the only survivor from seven births. There were only a few educational institutions within Sindh and for higher education one had to correspond with Bombay University. This made it socioeconomically difficult, especially for women, to achieve higher education. Within this environment Amina achieved matriculation from Bombay University – the first woman in the family – perhaps one of a very few in Hyderabad, Sindh.

By 1936 Sindh had separated from the Bombay Presidency and with that a new chapter of development of Sindh began. Hyderabad again became a culturally bustling town. This was mainly due to Hindu Divans who worked on Plantations in the Caribbean and brought wealth to Sindh. They promoted art and culture. Yet female education was scarce especially for muslims.

Amina was appointed as head of Art section in Madras -Tul – Banat school. We know very little about Amina’s interest in Art and her degree/diploma related to this book due to her untimely death. According to Amina’s mother, she started the artwork in this book before she started her employment and carried on sketching long after her first two children were born. Considering the lack of resources libraries, etc., and limited access to Bombay University, her book is evidence of her perseverance. The book is written in English. It shows her competence in multifarious skills.

In addition, she was a champion for promoting education, regardless of cast, religion or gender. We know that she used to gather together children from the neighbourhood, motivate them, and took them to school. There are many doctors, teachers, and artists who are her ex-students in Sindh and will testify to this fact. She was a pioneer in establishing a reading room and a library for women in Hyderabad so they could read and have literary discussions.

Amina was married on 7th May 1942 and bore seven children. She continued working until her fourth child. The concept of a working mother was not very popular in those days but her quest for knowledge and passing knowledge to others overcame all obstacles. She was a positive influence to her husband too and encouraged and supported him. He became Chief Auditor and Director of Finance for the Province of Sindh (Pakistan).

Politically, the 1930s to 40s was a turbulent period in India. There was the struggle for independence on one hand and, on the other, muslims were demanding equal rights or a separate country. Fortunately Sindh was a religiously tolerant province. There was hardly any evidence of Hindu-Muslim conflict. Her own family was divided: some were supporters of Jinnah’s Pakistan, and others supporters of Gandhi and Congress. But Amina was a supporter of Sindh. She wanted generations to remember the former glorious period of Sindh, its independence, the dark period of Mir’s internal conflict, and the resulting victory of Charles Napier of East India company – who was knighted as a reward of conquering Sindh. Atrocities committed on Sindhis during the battle of Miani were truthfully acknowledged by Sir Charles Napier himself, ”If this was a rascality it was a noble rascality”

Amina’s pictorial description and historical perspective on the Mirs of Sindh is not only a tribute to her Motherland but a testimony to her intellectual vigour, academic pursuit and her artistic abilities. Sadly, her sudden and untimely death on 23rd May 1959, at the tender age of 40 years, deprived not only Sindh of one of her zealous devout daughters, but her parents lost their only child, and her seven young children lost a loving mother and her husband lost a supportive and beloved wife.

Donation of Monier-Williams archive

The Bodleian owes much of its rich collection of Indic manuscripts and books to the personal collection of Oxford University’s Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Sir Monier Monier-Williams and that of the Indian Institute Library, which he founded in 1883. Scholars have long assumed that the library also holds Sir Monier’s papers: these, however, remained with his family.

Sir Monier-Williams’ great great grandson has now most generously donated these papers to the library.  This archival collection includes diaries, material on the controversial election of Sir Monier to the Boden Professorship, his lecture notes and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, all of which provide new insights into his career and the history of Indian Studies at Oxford.

 

Dancing all night with Aphra Behn: a recently acquired diary of Jeffrey Boys of Betteshanger, 1667

 

The library recently acquired a little Gallen almanac of 1667. This work, itself a rare book (we have traced a handful of Gallen almanacs in the Bodleian, and none for 1667), has become a unique manuscript as it contains a diary of Jeffrey (or Jefferay) Boys of Betteshanger, Kent for the year 1667. The catalogue has just been published online. Although the diary covers only 12 pages (one per month), it is of considerable interest as a record of Restoration London. In the words of the bookseller  Samuel Gedge, who identified the author and the significance of the diary, the diarist “offers a masterclass in Restoration dandyism: gambling, socialising, drinking, dancing and theatregoing”.

Jeffrey Boys (1643-1703) was a young lawyer at Gray’s Inn, one of many sons of John Boys (d. 1678), possessor of the manor of Betteshanger in Kent. John Boys was married three times, and the numerous references to brothers, sisters and cousins in the diary refer to step-relatives and brothers and sisters-in-law as well as full siblings, and all can be traced in pedigrees of the Boys family and John Boys’s will held in the National Archives. Jeffrey’s mother and father make a brief appearance in the diary when ‘Father & Mother Let’ come to London. Jeffrey’s mother was named Letitia.

The most extraordinary aspect of the diary however is Boys’s meetings with the female playwright Aphra Behn, with whom he is clearly acquainted. Aphra goes by the name of ‘Astrea’, and her identity might not have been established but for the fortunate discovery in 1930 of another Jeffrey Boys diary of 1671. Astrea was apparently a name Aphra Behn adopted when she was a spy in Antwerp. Sadly, the whereabouts of the original diary is not presently known, but the discoverer, though not recording where he saw it, wrote it up in Notes and Queries, noting that Boys records that he saw Astrea’s play the Forc’d Marriage, and then that ‘Astraea’s boy brought me her play the Amorous Prince’.

[May] 29 Sisters, Mrs An. Farew[ell], Astrea & divers men set up dauncing at Spr[ing] gard[en] all night

The 1667 diary shows that Jeffrey Boys’s connection with Aphra Behn was more intimate, and went back further than could be discovered from the the 1671 diary. She makes her first of five appearances in Boys’s 1667 diary on 29 May when Boys, his sister, Astrea and ‘divers men set up dauncing at Spr[ing] gard[en] all night’. The date of this first entry is noteworthy because it is known from other sources that Aphra Behn had returned from her spying mission to Antwerp earlier that month (see her entry in the Dictionary of National Biography). It is clear from this entry that Boys already knew Astrea, and as she is treated in the same way as all his other friends and relatives mentioned in the diary, it is likely that they had known one another a long time.

 

The diary has numerous interesting references to life in Restoration London. On 14-15 Jan 1667 Boys records attendance at various plays. He saw the ‘Indian Queen’ (‘it not having been acted in a long time’) and its companion the ‘Indian Emperor’ performed over two days, ‘the whole Court almost except th[ei]r Maj[est]ies being there’. This was Thomas Killigrew’s production, the man who was later to stage Behn’s plays and who was also connected with her spying activies. In February 1667 Boys helped to set up an Anatomy Club, missing its first meeting as he was watching Spanish rope dancers. At a later meeting he saw ‘a dog well anatomized’.

November  ….lost my cloake in Lincolns In field  … bought new sword [he lost his old one]. had new Periwig.

Boys also attended the ‘Humorous Lovers’ by the ‘Duchesse of Newcastle’ exactly, he says ‘as shee writ it’. It is supposed that the Duke of Newcastle actually wrote the play, but Pepys also saw it at the same time, and he too believed it to have been written by the Duchess.

Boys seems to be following Pepys around. He and his companions saw a ‘riding of Skimington’ on 10 June 1667 in Greenwich. This was a form of community retribution meted out on people deemed to be acting anti-socially, and Pepys witnessed the very same incident in Greenwich on the same day:

[from Pepys Diary 10 June 1667] ‘…in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him.’

The diary gives an interesting picture of places of entertainment in post-Fire London. Several taverns are mentioned, the favourite being the Bacchus, where once again we find Boys and others dancing all night with Astrea in December 1667. In October Boys was up all night again, this time at ‘La Frouns’ (or possibly La Trouns – if anyone has information about this institution, please let us know). Among his companions on this occasion were ‘Ld Bellamounts daughters Lady Frances and Persiana’. Frances Bard, daughter of the Earl of Bellomont, was Prince Rupert’s mistress and mother of his natural son Dudley.  According to some accounts, the relationship ended in 1667.

At the end of the volume, Boys has copied out the steps for various country dances – perhaps he and Aphra Behn tried a few of them!

Buying books on witchcraft in 17th-century London

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673 (click to enlarge)

The Bodleian Library has acquired an extremely rare autograph letter by the 17th-century English bookseller and auctioneer Edward Millington. The letter, dated 29 November 1673, is only the second known item of correspondence in Millington’s hand and represents a significant addition to evidence of book trade in this period, not least because Millington’s correspondent is both a researcher of witchcraft and a woman. The addressee is  “the Lady Gerhard at Mr Sanders a woollen draper in York Streete near Covent Garden” ;  most probably Lady Jane Gerard, née Digby, baroness of Bromley. At the time the letter was written Lady Gerard had already lost her first husband, Charles Gerard, 4th baron Gerard of Bromley (d.1667) and was yet to marry her second,  Sir Edward Hungerford (1632-1711). Lady Gerard’s discovery of a ‘healing spring’ at Willowbridge in Staffordshire would be recorded in 1676 by her chaplain Samuel Gilbert in a pamphlet entitled ‘Fons sanitatis’ (London, 1676). She died in 1703.

The present letter reveals Lady Gerard to have had a serious interest in writings on witchcraft; tantalisingly, it seems to have been part of a longer correspondence with Millington, the rest of which is now lost. In it he recalls having promised Lady Gerard “an exact account of all the English authors of witchcraft both for and against,”  and mentions a previous “parcell of books” sold to her. Millington himself was well placed to advise on such a topic; in 1669, he had published John Wagstaffe’s ‘The question of witchcraft debated’ out of the print shop he ran at the sign of the Pelican on Duck Lane, Little Britain. By the time of this letter he had moved to his later premises, at the sign of the Bible, but was yet to make his name as an auctioneer; a career that would see him described by Thomas Herne as “certainly the best Auctioneer in the World, being a man of Great Wit and Fluency of Speech… [though] very impudent and saucy” [DNB].

Three early modern books on witches and witchcraft

Books on witches and witchcraft, as recommended by Edward Millington

By 1673 Millington was evidently active in the second-hand book trade; the purpose of this letter to Lady Gerard is to provide a list of further books he was able to supply, with prices. These include “Dr Dees Relation of his actions with spirits,” probably ‘A true & faithful relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee […] and some spirits’ (London, 1659); “Ady’s Candle in the Darkness,” i.e. Thomas Ady’s ‘A candle in the dark: or, A treatise concerning the nature of witches & witchcraft’, first published London 1655, and “Lavater Of Walking Ghosts,” which must be an English translation of Ludwig Lavater’s  ‘De spectris, lemuribus et magnis atque insolitis fragoribus’, such as the one published in 1596 as ‘Of ghostes and spirites, walking by night, and of straunge noyses, crackes, and sundrie forewarnings, which commonly happen before the death of men…’. Copies of all three of the books recommended by Millington are available to researchers at the Bodleian – soon they will be able to consult them alongside Millington’s letter of recommendation.

–Jo Maddocks and Mike Webb

Additions to the Wardrop Collection

On May 17th descendants of the British diplomat Sir Oliver Wardrop visited the Bodleian to donate further items to the Wardrop collection on Georgia. The newly donated material contains correspondence by Sir Oliver written during his period as British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia, 1919-20, and letters written by his sister Marjory on her first visit to Georgia in 1894.

During their visit, family members were shown manuscripts already in the Library’s  Wardrop collection by Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who is currently writing a book about the collection.

Descendants of Sir Oliver Wardrop with Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze showing their additions to the Wardrop collection

The Simon Digby Oriental Collection – curation and care

 In April of 2015, the Trustees of the Simon Digby Memorial Trust deposited a large collection of Oriental Manuscripts belonging to the Late Simon Digby (1932-2010) with the Special Collections Department of the Bodleian Libraries. Almost a year later, the collection was officially donated to the Library.

Mr. Simon Digby, a descendent of Sir Kenelm Digby (d. 1665), whose Western and Oriental manuscript collection the Bodleian Library also holds, was a Fellow of Wolfson College, and a scholar, linguist, translator, and collector. He was Assistant Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean Museum from 1972. Above all a lover of India, Mr. Digby spent a great deal of time in that country (indeed, he was born and died there). However, the bulk of his collection was amassed in Britain at the auctions of manuscripts from the collections of Thomas Phillipps of Middle Hall (d. 1872); Sir Richard Burn, KCIE, ICS (d. 1947); A. H. Harley (d. 1951); and others.

MS. S. Digby Or. 210 – A 15th-century illuminated manuscript of poetry from Herat in Afghanistan.

The Simon Digby Oriental Collection consists of over 260 manuscripts the majority of which are in Persian, with a handful in languages such as Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and some in Indian languages including Sanskrit and Gujarati. The collection contains important and rare works in the fields of Indian history, biographies of Sufi Saints, and biographies and poetry of the Persian Poets of the Sabk-i Hindī or Indian Style.

Upon arrival in the Library in April 2015, the entire collection was sent to a specialist conservation laboratory for thorough drying and cleaning. When the books returned, some months later, staff in the Oriental Department began work assigning new shelfmarks, making observations on the general condition of each book and measuring each volume for a custom made archival box. Certain items were also flagged up for extra care from the conservation department of the Library.

Each manuscript is housed in its own custom-made archival box.

At the same time, work began on cataloguing the collection for which Mr. Digby’s extensive notes and handlist proved very useful. These notes together with information obtained through examination of the volumes were converted into online catalogue records in the Fihrist database – a UK based union catalogue of manuscripts from the Islamic world. Browse the S. Digby Oriental Collection on the Fihrist Database [work-in-progress]. To date, 168 entries appear on Fihrist, and work is currently underway to catalogue from scratch the remaining works for which no notes exist.

Detail from MS. S. Digby Or. 129 – A history of the coinage of India.

Speaking about the Library’s acquisition of the S. Digby Collection, Bahari Curator of Persian Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, Alasdair Watson, said, “Mr. Digby was, perhaps, one of the last of the true ‘gentleman collectors’, and his collection is substantial both in terms of numbers of items as well as richness of content. Acquiring a collection such as this is a really once-in-a-lifetime experience for any library curator and it is a great privilege to be involved in its long-term preservation and care as well as in helping to make it available for scholarly study.”

 

 

 

 

Mouldbusters! A new FitzGerald acquisition gets the preventive conservation treatment

Back in June, Geoffrey Purefoy, Mabel FitzGerald’s great-nephew who still lives at the family home in Shalstone, kindly donated to the Bodleian Library three boxes of books, journals, offprints, photographs and memorabilia which once belonged to FitzGerald.
These items were, long ago, sent from Edinburgh, where the phyisologist and pathologist had worked and lived from 1915 to the late 1930s, to her relatives in Buckinghamshire, and had been half-forgotten for years, stored away in a barn, alongside wool and farm supplies.

The material, including some of FitzGerald’s science books, offprints of many of her own publications, and notebooks and photos from travels in the United States (very likely, the famous Pikes Peak expedition!), is a most valuable addition to the FitzGerald archive at the Bodleian Library, and we were very lucky to receive it in time to include it in the current FitzGerald cataloguing project.

However, decades of storage had left their traces, and after a very short initial assessment by a very concerned archivist it became clear: this is a case for the Bodleian’s very own…

…Mouldbusters!

a.k.a. our colleagues from the Preventive Conservation Team, who are part of  Bodleian Conservation and Collection Care, and very conveniently for any suspected mould and pests emergencies, have their office at the Weston Library only a stone’s throw (…or walk across a 3rd floor corridor…) away from the area where archive material is sorted and catalogued.

Not only are Alexandra  Walker and her team extremely knowledgeable and always willing to help whenever an archivists turns up with a suspicious looking item or big question marks relating to packaging and storage of more exotic finds in the collection (locks of hair, dried flowers, microscope slides, teeth… we get it all!), they even agreed to give us a glimpse into the their work, and into the new Weston Library Quarantine Room:


Guest blog by Alexandra Walker, Acting Head of Preventive Conservation Continue reading